A mental health charity is urging GPs to be more proactive in referring people suffering from repeated episodes of depression to cognitive therapy counselling.
The Mental Health Foundation has said increased access to mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) – a treatment based on meditation techniques – could help people recover and get back to work more quickly.
In a survey it found that just a fifth of GPs said they were able to access MBCT, and just one in 20 prescribed it regularly, despite the NHS spending watchdog the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) recommending it in 2004 as a treatment for recurrent depression.
The treatment, said the foundation, was proven to cut relapse rates in half for those who experienced more than two episodes of depression (half of sufferers have more than one episode of depression).
What is normally prescribed is an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation, alongside elements of cognitive behavioural therapy and yoga, the foundation added.
Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Mindfulness-based therapy could be helping to prevent thousands of people from relapsing into depression every year. This would have huge knock-on benefits both socially and economically, making it a sensible treatment to be making available, even at a time when money is short within the NHS.”
Nearly seven in 10 of the GPs polled said they rarely or never referred patients with recurrent depression to MBCT, against 5% who did it often.
The survey also showed a marked preference among GPs for ‘medical’ solutions to depression and mental ill health, with nearly half saying they would be more likely to simply prescribe anti-depressants.
Three-quarters said they had done just this to patients with recurrent depression, with two-thirds adding they had done so because there was a waiting list for suitable alternatives.
Nearly six in 10 GPs admitted that they did not have access to other suitable treatments anyway and, in half of cases, their decision had been the patient’s preferred treatment option.